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Grandmothers for Peace celebrates 25 years

Twenty-five years ago, one woman started an army. These soldiers for peace, most with a touch of gray in their hair, continue to fight on local and national levels.

Twenty-five years ago, one woman started an army. These soldiers for peace, most with a touch of gray in their hair, continue to fight on local and national levels.

Superior native Barb Wiedner founded Grandmothers for Peace International in 1982 to protest nuclear weapons.

It started with a circle of friends and $11 in pooled change. It grew to encompass 46 chapters throughout the world.

In 1983, Wiedner's sister, Jan Provost, took up the banner in the Northland.

With her seven children out of the house, the Superior woman was ready to focus on something other than leading 4-H and catechism. Although her sister "dragged me kicking and screaming" into the movement, Provost made it her own.

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"She is the heart and soul of our group," member Dorothy Wolden said.

For 25 years, Provost has typed out newsletters, snapped pictures at events and pulled the group together.

"I think it's just part of the fabric of our lives, and we have to be involved," the Superior woman said.

Provost's first recruitment effort took place at a nuclear freeze meeting. She walked in with a clipboard, pen and a piece of paper to ask if anyone had a grandmother interested in joining.

At the 1983 Fourth of July Parade, Provost took her campaign on the road. She carried a sign with a slogan borrowed from a Catholic Herald article: "Arms are for hugging."

"I was so doggone scared, I was hiding behind the sign," Provost said. Soon, people started clapping and cheering for the group. By the end of the route, Provost held her sign high in the air.

An Ashland woman, Bertha Kurki, became the chapter's second member after Provost met her at a picnic. Today, the group has nearly 100 members from Superior, Duluth and the surrounding area.

"Over these 25 years it has become an activist institution," said Wolden, who joined the group after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Grandmothers for Peace has been involved in marches and protests from Douglas County to Chicago to Washington D.C.

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Locally, the chapter has given away thousands of peaceful toys, provided dozens of scholarships and had a hand in almost every peace activist movement in the area.

"One of the incredible, wonderful things about Grandmothers for Peace is they just jump in, they sign on," said member Donna Howard. "It's very fluid."

The group consists of peacemakers, leaders and activists. Some aren't even grandmothers. A few are men.

And everyone can play a part they are comfortable with, whether standing in protest, calling legislators, sending letters and e-mails or simply baking cookies.

"Even if that's all you do is wear your shirt, it shows there's people who care," Provost said.

"There's a role for everyone," Wolden said.

For years, the group made regular trips to the ELF facility in Clam Lake. Even in the midst of protest, their motherly side showed through.

"That was like a family reunion down there," Provost said. "We got to know the law enforcement officers well. We would bring them banana bread. They were great guys."

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Now that the site is shut down, she said, the group mainly protests the war.

But, Provost said, "The nuclear threat is still there; you can't let up on that."

Doug Finn said he always looks for Grandmothers for Peace when he attends area parades and functions.

"This is what makes our community great," he said. "Groups that care about our country and world."

The group takes part in the annual march against domestic violence and local candlelight vigils. Their information table -- and baked goods -- can be found at area meetings and events.

"They really have promoted peace," said Kelly Berger, director for the Center Against Sexual and Domestic Abuse, which is one of the recipients of the toy drive.

One of the things that draws grandmothers of all ages to the group is their philosophy. Although it was founded to protest nuclear weapons, it has grown to encompass all peaceful movements.

"Since the war started with Iraq, we've experienced a doubling of our membership locally," Wolden said.

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The group finds its center in Provost, a role model, a leader and a friend.

"Jan's gift is to be able to include everyone," said member Donna Howard. "You cannot resist falling in love with this woman."

Provost said she has enjoyed the friendship and the work that goes with the group. It has kept her connected in more ways than one.

"It really keeps you busy reading the paper, keeping track of what's going on in the world," she said. "I think it's very important, no matter how old you are, to stay informed."

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